Hurricane Hanna delays shuttle's move to pad
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: September 1, 2008
Already running four days late because of Tropical Storm Fay and another three because of a technical snag, the shuttle Atlantis' move to launch pad 39A was held up another 24 hours today, from Tuesday to at least Wednesday, because of uncertainty about the possible impact of Hurricane Hanna.
Hurricane Gustav, meanwhile, roared ashore in Louisiana earlier today, passing to the southwest of New Orleans and Lockheed Martin's Michoud Assembly Facility where space shuttle external tanks are built. While company officials have not yet carried out a detailed inspection, NASA sources say the sprawling facility appears to have come through in relatively good shape.
As if dodging two hurricanes was not enough to worry about, NASA managers also are tracking the development of tropical storm Ike in the mid Atlantic Ocean. Ike is expected to strengthen to hurricane status and while it doesn't appear to threaten Florida's east coast, it's too soon to say where the storm might eventually go.
NASA hopes to launch Atlantis around Oct. 8 on the agency's fifth and final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. Even with the delays to date, shuttle workers still have several days of on-pad contingency time to handle unexpected problems.
But engineers preparing Hubble hardware for launch also fell behind because of Fay and unlike their shuttle colleagues, they do not have any on-pad contingency time left. As of late last week, the Hubble team was two to three days behind schedule, raising the prospect of a launch delay to Oct. 10 or 11, regardless of the rollout delay.
NASA plans to follow Atlantis' mission by launching the shuttle Endeavour around Nov. 10 on a space station assembly flight. But the agency only has two weeks to get Endeavour off the pad before the angle between the sun and the lab complex reaches a point that precludes shuttle visits because of temperature constraints.
In that case, Endeavour's launching likely would slip into early next year, triggering downstream delays for subsequent flights. As a result, NASA managers want to preserve Endeavour's Nov. 10 launch target if at all possible to ensure an adequate cushion to handle weather or unexpected technical problems.
Endeavour is being processed in parallel to serve as an emergency rescue vehicle in case Atlantis suffers any damage that might prevent a safe re-entry. Just how much cushion Endeavour ends up with depends in part on when Atlantis gets off the ground and when Endeavour is cleared of its launch-on-need obligations.
Regardless of the threat of any subsequent delays, NASA managers plan to stick with the current flight sequence. There has been talk in recent days about a possible mission flip flop - delaying Atlantis to early next year to ensure Endeavour gets off in November - if the Hubble flight falls too far behind. But officials said today they plan to stay in order, launching Atlantis first, then Endeavour.